First Listen: David Bowie, Where Are We Now?

His fond look back shows singer still has plenty to offer

That Bowie should break his decade-long silence with a single that is a 66th birthday present to himself is entirely apt, given that the song is reflective and melancholy.

He gazes fondly back at the most fertile period of his career, when he made the Berlin Trilogy of albums, Low, Heroes and Lodger. The lyrics are full of references to his time there, from the Hauptstrasse apartment he shared with Iggy Pop to haunts such as the KaDeWe store where he shopped, and Dschungel club where he hung out.

The tone is valedictory and wistful, with lyrical reflections on “a man lost in time” in Berlin, “just walking the dead”. Produced by Bowie’s long-time collaborator Tony Visconti, who also produced Reality, it’s a lush ballad of watery, reverbed guitar, like misty eyes, carried by the enervated, dolorous beat of one who doesn’t get around as nimbly as he used to.

The vulnerable vocal reminds us that this is a man of pensionable age, and the subtle touches of auto-tuning applied to the chorus add almost imperceptibly to the general feeling of fragility, one of the more innovative uses of this ubiquitous sonic meme. And like many Bowie songs, the evanescent but beautiful melody comes to haunt you the more you hear it, casting an unbearably poignant shadow over the closing mantra of endurance, “as long as there’s me, as long as there’s you”.

Directed by Tony Oursler, the video features the projected faces of Bowie and a woman on puppet dolls sat among the clutter of a life well lived, while footage of old Berlin plays on a screen behind.

It’s a strange, creepy little film, Bowie’s talking doll recalling the android boy of AI, as if it were the last remaining repository of some long-lost human spirit, trying to recapture what exactly it was that once drove humans – the particular personal experiences increasingly lost in a blizzard of information. As such, it fits in well with previous Bowie reflections upon alienation and automation in albums such as Diamond Dogs and Station To Station. Whether it’s a theme he develops further will become evident in March, when the album The Next Day becomes available.